Women in leadership: Catalysts for transformative change in healthcare sector

Dr Monica B Sood, CEO, Navjivan Health Service and Chairperson, National Unity & Security Council highlights that recognising the imperative of women’s involvement across all strata of the healthcare industry is essential for the provision of equitable and inclusive healthcare, especially for marginalised segments of society

In the perpetually evolving landscape of the Indian healthcare industry, robust leadership emerges as an indispensable force, shaping the benchmarks, accessibility, and enduring viability of medical care. The imperative for effective leadership intensifies with the maturation and expansion of the nation’s healthcare framework.

Global health, a multidisciplinary domain encompassing education, practice, and research, aspires to advance the well-being of every individual and establish health equity on a global scale, particularly for the underserved. Remarkably, the paucity of female leadership in the healthcare sector is a disconcerting observation, given the pivotal role of women’s health in the broader context of global well-being.

Illustratively, findings from the 2023 study by Boardroom Insiders underscore a conspicuous dearth of women acquiring the corporate experience requisite for attaining the highest echelons of leadership. The statistics reveal that a mere 30 per cent of board members in the corporations comprising the major indices of the Global 20 are women. Furthermore, women constituted only 19.2 per cent of new appointees to leadership teams among the Global 20 in the year leading up to Q1 2023, a marginal figure compared to the 20.5 per cent representation among the leadership team as a whole, underscoring the palpable threat of uneven progress.

Despite incremental improvements observed in countries such as Singapore, India, Brazil, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates in the period leading up to Q1 2023, the percentage of women on boards remains below 25 per cent. Alarmingly, a mere 8.2 per cent of CEO roles in the S&P 500 are occupied by women. Recognising the imperative of women’s involvement across all strata of the healthcare industry is essential for the provision of equitable and inclusive healthcare, especially for marginalised segments of society.

Women across disciplines and in both formal and informal capacities, have historically assumed leadership roles in improving the health of their families and communities globally. Despite this, their representation in healthcare leadership remains marginalised, with tangible evidence of effective organisational policies, practices, and strategies to fortify women’s careers remaining scarce. As the global community endeavors to achieve universal health coverage, bolstering women’s political leadership in global health becomes paramount to advancing sustainable development goals, ensuring healthy lives, attaining gender equality, and inspiring women and girls.

The infusion of women into leadership roles offers a myriad of benefits, such as elevating women’s health on the public health agenda, facilitating the collection of disaggregated data, and enabling sex-differentiated disease diagnosis and treatment. Through innovative approaches in diagnostics and entrepreneurship, women leaders in the health and pharmaceutical sectors are extending healthcare delivery to remote rural and urban areas, thus bridging gaps in last-mile healthcare provision.

Female leaders are often lauded for their democratic and compassionate leadership styles, fostering inclusivity, group decision-making, shared accountability, and teamwork. Beyond contributing diversity and a spectrum of perspectives to the workplace, women play a pivotal role in narrowing the gender gap in the workforce—an observation substantiated by experts in the field.

Throughout history, women have confronted formidable obstacles in their pursuit of leadership roles, contending with prejudice, discrimination, and persecution based solely on gender. Nevertheless, women have triumphed as leaders, activists, and advocates in the last two centuries, effecting transformative change in various fields, including healthcare. Pioneers such as Neerja Birla, Meena Ganesh, Dr V Shanta, Soumya Swaminathan, Dr Nandita Shah, and others have left an indelible mark in healthcare through their trailblazing contributions, characterized by not only professional excellence but also benevolent endevours.

Despite the progress made, women leaders still grapple with challenges such as discrimination, a dearth of investors willing to finance female-owned enterprises, inadequate support, and unfair working conditions. The persisting unequal distribution of responsibilities in childcare, elder care, and household chores further compounds the challenges. Instituting substantive change is imperative, with the transformation commencing at the familial and communal levels.

The influence of women in healthcare leadership extends beyond the confines of the industry, making profound economic contributions. By nurturing a leadership cadre inclusive of diverse perspectives, the industry is better equipped to address challenges and capitalise on opportunities, fostering economic growth and resilience.

Crucially, it is imperative to acknowledge that gender should not be a determinant of leadership prowess in the healthcare profession or any other industry. The capacity to guide an organisation toward success and unprecedented heights is the ultimate metric of significance. In dismantling preconceived notions and fostering an environment that recognises leadership based on merit, we not only pave the way for gender-inclusive leadership but also fortify the foundations of a more equitable and prosperous future for all. The diverse perspectives, collaborative aptitudes, and ethos that women infuse into leadership roles are instrumental in steering the industry towards excellence. As we advocate for gender equality in healthcare leadership, we concurrently advocate for a robust and economically vibrant future. Women are not only driving change in every industry but are also catalysts for growth, contributing significantly to the industry’s laurels and the broader economic landscape.

gender gaphealthcare leadershipleadershipWomen in healthcare
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